Virality and How to Create a Viral Video

“The key to virality is to create a feeling of unexpectedness in your viewers, potential customers, or investors. Virality cannot be guaranteed but people incorrectly assume that means it is not created. All viral content is created by someone, whether intentional or not. The rules of virality can be discovered, studied, practiced and thereby the potential for creating viral content increases.”
Jay Davis, Creatably

How to Make a Viral Video

Before I get to the “how to” of making a viral video, it’s important to define what it means: a video that gets over 5 million hits within 3-7 days. That’s a lot of clicks in a very short period of time. But you don’t necessarily need that many eyeballs to view your video in order to be an influencer or see an uptick in interest or sales. What you do need is compelling video content that is memorable enough to stick with viewers so they dig deeper to learn more—or act on your call to action. But you don’t always have to shoot for viral (the odds of creating a viral video aren’t exactly high)—aim for virality instead.

What is Virality?

It’s more than a buzzword for savvy digital marketers and content developers; it describes the frequency and speed at which information travels on the internet. And just so you know, when it comes to virality, “shares” are more important than total views according to Jay Davis, Founder and CEO of Creatably. If you’re a marketer (and even if you’re not), this is important because it helps you set a benchmark for the digital content you produce. The number of shares your content receives will help you calculate your ROI.

The Recipe for Viral Content

The bad (or good) news is that there isn’t one. But researchers, analysts, and marketers are trying to pinpoint what exactly causes some content pieces to blow up, while others fizzle. Jonah Berger, a “viral scientist” and Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has uncovered some very interesting insights about virality.

Professor Berger and colleagues analyzed the New York Times emailing behavior for three months to collect data on content reception, clicks and shares. Their results were discussed in a kissmetric blog post (link below) where they outlined five traits of viral content:

  1. It needs to surprise its audience.
  2. It has to connect with people’s interests
  3. It has to have a certain level of emotional intensity
  4. It has to be positively reinforcing or affirming
  5. It has to be practically useful and applicable to the user

These traits help draw parallels between those cat memes, ice-bucket challenges, 6-second vines and Kony type videos for social causes we see populating our news feeds. Not only do they share these traits, they are characteristics all good content should exhibit in order to engage an audience. The first three traits are usually the most commonly identifiable ones, and for digital marketing professionals, your content KPI’s probably measure these in some form (or should).

However as the Kissmetric post suggests, the last two stand out a bit more. I think it’s because these traits refer to the deeper qualities of viral content. They help establish a connection with the audience and provide information they can apply. This means that viral content does more than catch people’s attention, which is something that can often be overlooked.

Sure, Berger and company analyzed behavior for a news website, not video, but the research highlights commonly overlooked content characteristics that come in handy when planning a video that (hopefully) that has some virality to it. After all, Professor Berger has said, “Virality isn’t born, it’s made. When we care, we share.” (To learn more, read Professor Berger’s Kissmetrics article).  

David Meerman Scott, Author of New Rules of Marketing and PR also talks about one specific element about viral content that is important to keep in mind: it’s an information resource for audiences. “When people come to you online, they are not looking for TV commercials. They are looking for information to help them make a decision.” That’s why your content (or some of it, depending on your audience) should be very shareable; this is what makes it travel incredibly fast.

What is at the Core of Virality?

At the 2016 Utah Crowdfunding Conference this past April, Jay Davis shared a few golden nuggets about virality. Based on his experience creating viral videos for clients, he suggested that at the root of virality is the idea of unexpectedness. When content unexpectedly inspires awe, it grabs your attentionand if structured well, it will start racking up shares. To help crowdfunders in their video creation process, he shared four key questions to ask before attempting to make a video (or anything) viral:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How is the solution unexpected?
  4. Do the features solve the problem?

Does this shed some light on the phenomenon of virality? Does it give you some starting points for your next project? Sound off in our comments section below.

To view Jay Davis’s full presentation with examples click here.
For Jonah Berger’s full article click here